Watch: By gilding the ordinary, artist suggests Bay Area is enclave for the rich

With Gilded Cities, Berkeley artist Erik Schmitt applies gold leaf to the utilitarian and explores the idea that living in the Bay Area is now out of reach for many.

Walkers step on it, dogs trot over it, oblivious, but these days a normally unobtrusive manhole cover on the dappled Indian Rock Path in North Berkeley has a glinting golden hue to it. That’s because it has been meticulously covered with 23-karat gold leaf by local artist Erik Schmitt for his new project, Gilded Cities, a collaboration with Nick Bushman.

The project, which comprises nine gilded utilitarian objects in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, grew from work Schmitt did as a fellow at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this year, where he explored displacement within San Francisco.

The idea behind it, he says, is that the Bay Area has become an enclave for the rich — unattainable to all but the most privileged. The gilded sewer plates, water pipes and power access covers make a striking contrast to their surroundings, which range from gritty urban alleys to leafy residential cul-de-sacs.

Chris Polydoroff talked to Schmitt about Gilded Cities for the video story above. A website accompanying the project, created by Nick Bushman, includes photographs of all the objects and provides a map of their locations. Tracey Taylor